The conventional thinking about waste is that it is dirty, pollutes the environment, and threatens human health. Based on this thinking, the methods adopted by most authorities across the world for managing waste are landfilling and incineration.
Landfilling is dumping waste in a large pit to make the waste disappear from sight. The reality of landfilling is that it contaminates groundwater and land. An enormous amount of undegraded waste remains in landfills for ages. Landfills are often not far from settlements, thus threatening the health of people in its vicinity. Methane gas emitted in landfills from the decomposition of organic matters sets other materials on fire. Landfills leave the land unusable permanently. When landfills reach the full, they are left as it is, and new ones get created.
Incineration is burning waste in a closed furnace where 90% of the solid waste vanishes. The truth about incineration is that it converts every 1 ton of solid waste into 30kg of air-borne ashes (containing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen), and 6000m³ of fume gases (containing carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, heavy metals and dioxins). 10% of solid waste volume remains in the incinerator as ashes, which is toxic and requires sanitary landfilling.
Landfilling and incineration destroy products and materials in the name of managing waste. In contrast, 'zero-waste' is a strategy for managing waste in which everything has value since they derive from nature. The emphasis is on adopting sustainable practices that reduce waste and help communities and societies to prevent sending products and materials to landfills and incinerators. Some of these include: designing products better to ensure long-lastingness, minimising wastage throughout the production, distribution, and consumption chain, consuming what is needed, throwing away less and saving discarded products and materials by recovering, repurposing, and recycling.
Ladakh was traditionally a zero-waste society. Local communities produced only agricultural and human waste, all of which found use in remarkable ways. Agricultural waste was fed to cattle, mixed in mud bricks, used for roofing houses, stuffed inside mattresses, and so on, while human waste served as manure in farming. Some of these practices continue to date, not only in the villages but also in the cities. However, the problem now is that the waste comprises predominantly inorganic materials, such as plastics, cement, glass, metals, ceramics, polyester, and rubber, to name just a few.
Our philosophy at ZERO WASTE LADAKH is that it is possible to protect the environment while enjoying products and materials if we can create sustainability in every sphere. For sustainability, we must decrease our production and consumption, and develop efficient ways of manufacturing, using, and reusing products that bring the least harm to the environment.
Based on this philosophy, our mission is to bring collaboration between individuals, organisations, and governments for adopting the zero-waste strategy of waste management. According to this, the top priority is not generating waste. However, once waste gets generated, it must be reused and recycled. Sending products and materials for incineration or landfilling are the least desirable.